How I became a Christian

How I became a Christian                                                                                   by Ken Joyce

As I finished my time in secondary school I decided I wanted to become a Maths teacher.  I had developed a great deal of pleasure in the neatness, the logic, the beauty and the conclusiveness of a multi-step proof of a mathematical theorem.  My gentle, quiet maths teacher of the time helped me to appreciate this.

I won a Teacher’s College Scholarship which not only paid my fees and guaranteed me a job but also paid an allowance; an important thing when my family lived on my father’s tradesman’s wage.

University was not a pleasure and it was a relief to finish a Bachelor’s degree in Science with my major subjects being pure maths and physics.

The next year was taken up attaining a Diploma in Education at the Teachers’ College and was a year which allowed me to really enjoy the life of a student. The course work was so much less demanding, the hours required so many fewer and the 2-hour lunchtimes in the warm, sunny quadrangle so much more pleasant.

These lunchtimes were spent with other students arguing the important matters in life in our times, the sort of thing students are meant to do. Two of my companions during these discussions were Ron Clarke and David Tow.

Ron’s great loves were Latin and Pure Maths because, he said, neither had any practical application.  He was very disappointed when Number Theory, a subject in Pure Maths, was put to practical use in the development of computers.  He was also an avowed atheist.

David had graduated as an aeronautical engineer and soon after completing his Dip Ed he left to lecture in the University in Kuala Lumpur.  He was an Australian born Chinese and not simply a Christian but an evangelist who loved to argue his case.

It seemed like I was the spectator at a tennis match as I watched the argument bounce from Ron to David, to Ron to David in a series of intellectual volleys. The discussions were thorough, good natured and continued over months of lunchtimes.

Until this time my understanding of Christianity was made up of a collection of assumptions and misunderstandings. I was typical of most people in our society.  However, this discussion confused me because Ron was not winning yet David was not producing a conclusive proof like my maths theorems had done. Nonetheless, Ron’s arguments wandered further from a set of stepwise arguments than did David’s so were somewhat less convincing. In addition, David always had an answer leaving Ron to find another question.

Having just completed a Science degree I thought the sensible thing to do was to apply scientific method to this argument.  David was producing an argument, a theory, an hypothesis.  To see whether an hypothesis is correct a scientist tests it, performing an experiment to see if it works.  I decided that this was what I should do.

The hypothesis David argued for was that God was the creator in charge of everything.  He has the right to run things as he wishes, including my life. However I have not been letting him do this, so I have rebelled against God’s right to rule. It is not enough to try to do a better job.  God is pure, faultless and holy and it is logically impossible for a less than perfect (sinful) person like me to approach him; mixing impurity with the pure makes everything impure, something God cannot be. What is necessary is for me to be purified.

That is where Jesus comes in.  If I accept that when Jesus died on the cross then God considers Jesus to have carried my sin with its consequences with him. God then considers me to be as pure, faultless and holy as Jesus was. In addition he gives me his Holy Spirit to enable me to live appropriately.

So, I decided to believe that Jesus died for me.  If this hypothesis is true I would know; if it is not it would not work.

My next problem was that the test neither worked nor failed.  Sometimes when an hypothesis is tested in an experiment the results may not be decisive, neither supporting nor disproving the hypothesis.

I found myself extremely frustrated.  I knew in myself somehow that it had not failed so I could not simply drop the whole idea and write it off as a delusion.  There was confusion in my mind.  For some reason I did not understand I could not let the matter rest. I was very annoyed for a couple of weeks until it occurred to me that while the hypothesis had not been proven the fact that I could not write it off as a failure meant that I had missed something.  I was not truly testing the hypothesis because there was something I had not understood, experienced or practiced, so I could not say it had failed.

I began attending meetings with David, trying to work this out.  Mostly these meetings were with the Overseas Christian Fellowship.  This experience alone was valuable as I mixed with students from a great diversity of countries and backgrounds.

At one of these meetings the speaker announced he was going to speak on Romans chapter 12.  There are 21 verses in this chapter and after he had been speaking for nearly 90 minutes he had dealt with the first three.  This was a group of university students he was talking to, so the talk was like a thorough lecture, a real study and left me in no doubt as to the meaning of these verses.  It made clear what I had been missing.

1I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

2Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.

The speaker went to a lot of trouble to argue that it is the Christians who are the non-conformists in this world. All the others conform to the current trends, peer group pressures and sales pitches.  Christians, however, see things as God the creator sees them.  As the creator he sees things as they really are, and so can Christians.  Christians are not only non-conformists but they are also the realists, seeing things as they really are.

We must be careful not to be too confident of our own ability to work things out. Don’t fool yourself into being proud of your ability to think.  If you are to really understand how things work you must be ready to allow your mind to be transformed. This is true open-mindedness, a virtue even to a scientist.  If you do you will then discover for yourself that God is true, his will is good, acceptable and perfect.

Now, this proof was what I was looking for.  And the secret for me lay in the first verse.

In the previous 11 chapters of Romans Paul had argued God’s right to rule, that men know he has that right yet reject him with the foolishness of a pot arguing with the potter over how things should work. He explained that despite this God had sent his son, Jesus, to be crucified on our behalf yet rise from the dead fully qualified to be the Saviour and Lord or King.

So Paul appeals to us, in the light of these truths, in the light of what God has done for us in Jesus, to do the logical, reasonable, sensible thing and respond by ceasing to try to run things ourselves and do what we should have done all along and “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God.

Which raises the question, “if you give your body to God, to Christ, what do you keep for yourself?” Can God take your body in one direction while you take your mind in another?  Can your body be used one way while your money is used in another? Your feelings might not like the idea of your body being used by God in some way, but they cannot be separated from it.

This presentation of the body as a living sacrifice to God, the sensible thing to do in the light of what Jesus has done is the basic form of worship we can give God. And it cannot be anything else but all or nothing.  It cannot be partial and it cannot be with strings attached.

This is what I was doing: attaching strings.  By saying, “I’ll give it a go.  If it works, OK.  If it doesn’t, I’ll drop it”, I was making my application of the Christian hypothesis with strings attached.  I had an “escape clause”.  It is not just disrespectful to approach God this way; it is yet another insult, another sin.  How dare I?

It was a vending machine on Central railway station that helped me understand this.  You drop the coin in, select your item and collect it from the drawer at the bottom. But what if it does not deliver? Try attaching a string to the coin – if the machine does not deliver then retrieve your coin.  However, the vending machine manufacturers have thought of this and built a system that catches any strings.  Try this trick and you do not get the goods from the machine, nor do you get your coin back.

So I was trying to be a “vending machine Christian”.  I had a string attached.  If God did not deliver then I would use my “string”, my way out clause, and this was not only an offence against God but it jammed the works!  My supposed commitment to the Christian hypothesis had failed to deliver on its promise but this was clearly my fault and I could not back out.

My next problem was that I did not think I could manage to make such a total commitment, not just because I was accepting that I did not know where it would lead but because I did not think it was in me to do such a thing. I began by simply telling God in a prayer that I did not have the strength to make the commitment he required and that if I was to become a Christian then he would have to provide the strength.

It was about two weeks later that I realised God was answering this prayer and I have been aware ever since that he continues to do so.

I knew I needed to read the Bible so as to really work all this out, so I bought myself a pocket-sized edition of the Bible and began to read it.  I have no idea why I started by reading the book called Ephesians. The first chapter says,

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus: 2grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. 5 He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 which he lavished upon us. 9 For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Assurance that it is true that Jesus is the creator, saviour and Lord of the universe only comes as a gift by way of his Holy Spirit.  As clever as we might think we are, as much as we might try to work out our own theory about God, he is so much more than we are, so much so that the only way we gain some understanding of God is when he reveals himself to us.

How wonderful it is that God had things all worked out before I even began to consider him. How wonderful that he sent Jesus to take the blame and power of my sin and made such a radical change that now God sees me as blameless, indeed, a son of God himself. It is wonderful to live with the Holy Spirit of Jesus who continually assures my spirit that this is the relationship I have.

God has been lavish in his love, mercy and in showing me so much favour that I have never deserved.

If only I could be as consistent in behaving as a child of God should.

Ken Joyce

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Version recorded at Bellingen Christian Gathering 5 May 2019

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